Hands down, the most common question we’ve gotten so far this season is some variation on “what’s the deal with Ersan Ilyasova and when will he be a good basketball player again?” The apprehension regarding Ilyasova is not a huge surprise given that he’s currently sitting at #290 on the GMTR player rater after being drafted 58th on average in Yahoo leagues. Everyone, including the Bucks who signed him to a $45 million contract, expected more out of him going into the season.
So, what IS the deal with Ilyasova? Play fantasy basketball long enough and you realize that the standard line on established veterans who start the year off in a slump – especially ones that are not shooting well to start the season (e.g., Roy Hibbert) – is usually to be patient and wait it out. As bad as things look to start the season, these veterans will usually get back on track in short order, provided they are not secretly injured.
But the thing is Ilyasova is not really an established veteran after having one breakout season last year. There may be a touch more Dorell Wright in him than anyone anticipated going into the year.
A quick look at Ilyasova’s basic stat line shows that the career 44% shooter is currently shooting an abysmal 31% from the floor and 43% from the line. As a result, his scoring numbers have dropped from 13 points per game last season to 6.9 this season. His minutes have declined from 27.5 a game last season to 24 this season. In addition, his steal numbers are down, he’s only blocked 1 shot in 8 games and even his vaulted rebounding numbers have declined from 8.8 a game last season to only 5.3 a game this year. Only his mediocre assist numbers and low turnovers have remained steady from last season, so at least he hasn’t lost the ability to pass the ball.
So the first thing to note is that Ilyasova isn’t just having problems with one aspect of his game, but just about everything on both offense and defense.
However, it’s his shooting that is the biggest problem right now and a quick look at Hoopdata explains at least some of the reason why. Last season, Ilyasova took 4.1 shots at what Hoopdata classifies “at rim” or less than 3 feet from the hoop and made 60% of those shots. This season, he’s only taking 2.6 shots per game at the rim and making a crazy low 33% of those shots. Instead of getting to the rim, Ilyasova is actually taking more threes than he did last season (2.3 to 1.9 attempts) and is only shooting 28% from three.
So, this is a good news/bad news situation for Ilyasova. He will not continue to shoot 33% on shots at the rim all season, so expect improvement there. His three point shooting should also improve, although last season’s 45.5% from three was likely lucky on the other end of the spectrum as he’s a career 35.5% three point shooter. Unless he starts getting to the rim a little more, Ilyasova’s percentages and potentially his scoring will be down from last season.
And what about Ilyasova’s 43% shooting from the line so far this year? It’s possible that the slump has gotten into his head so much that he’s turned into Dwight Howard from the line, but since he’s only taken 14 free throws so far this season (remember, he’s not getting to the rim) this is likely an issue of small sample sizes more than anything.
The lack of rebounds has also been a troubling development this season. According to Basketball Reference, Ilyasova’s rebounding rate last season was 17.6 (the percentage of available rebounds that he grabbed while on the court); this season it is 12.6. For reference, his career average is 15.0. This lack of rebounding means that Ilyasova has gone from averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds per game last season to only 1.5 this season. Remember the lack of shot attempts for Ilyasova at the rim this year? The huge decline in offensive boards is likely the main reason why.
Now I’m no Bucks’ expert, but here is where the addition of Samuel Dalembert and the growth of Larry Sanders has likely had a negative effect on Ilyasova. Say what you will about Dalembert, but both he and Sanders are very good to great rebounders. Ilyasova had his breakout season playing alongside centers like Drew Gooden, Jon Leuer and Ekpe Udoh, none of whom are in the same class of rebounder at this point in their careers. So while Ilyasova’s minutes and role have remained (more or less) steady from last season, he’s playing alongside a whole different type of player; one who hurts his biggest strength as a player last season.
So I see is a player who will improve as the season goes on, the question is how much? His shooting at the rim is definitely going to get better, as will his three point shot and free throw shooting. His scoring numbers should bounce back at least into the neighborhood of what they were last season. The big issue I see with Ilyasova is that his rebounding numbers and rebounding rate will almost certainly be lower than they were last season. Even with a rebounding rate more in line with his career averages (which may still even be optimistic), Ilyasova would still only be averaging about 6.5 rebounds per game.
I think anyone who drafted Ilyasova this season as one of their key forwards is going to be disappointed with his season – potentially very disappointed. But if Ilyasova was dropped in your league, is he worth a pickup? I’d say yes. There are enough silver linings in his dark cloud of a season that he should improve in a number of areas. No, he will not be a top 50 fantasy player this year, but once his shooting starts to come around, he could definitely crack the top 100 again.
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